Urgent need to spur revival of manufacturing sector

I agree with Mr Ng Ya Ken that more must be done to keep Singapore's manufacturing sector alive ("Safeguard future of manufacturing"; last Saturday).

Indeed, manufacturing has the potential to make substantial contributions to our economy well into the 21st century.

A key strength of the manufacturing sector lies in its value-added nature.

At the most fundamental level, the act of taking raw materials and component parts, and then fashioning them into a finished product, makes them vastly more useful and, hence, valuable.

It is estimated that for every dollar spent in the manufacturing sector, $1.65 is injected back into the economy by virtue of value-added output.

This multiplier plays right into Singapore's strengths and needs.

We are a key trans-shipment hub, affording numerous import and export opportunities. We are also an economic centre that has long been predicated on creating additional value in its goods and services.

More than that, manufacturing also has the potential to provide numerous high-skill and high-wage jobs.

Thus, Mr Ng's policy proposals to spur the revival of the manufacturing sector are timely and appropriate.

That said, more can be done to provide advanced manufacturing infrastructure, a prerequisite for a vibrant industrial sector.

History has demonstrated the accuracy of the saying, "build it and they will come".

In the 1970s, Jurong Town Corporation injected life into Singapore manufacturing by developing vast swathes of land into industrial estates, well furnished with utilities and transport links.

We can replicate this principle by investing in cutting-edge manufacturing facilities, such as flatted factories to maximise land use, or even offshore floating platforms to house particularly land-intensive industries.

We must embark on this manufacturing revival with urgency, as signs of industrial decay are becoming increasingly apparent.

For example, heavy machinery manufacturer Caterpillar recently shuttered its factory in Jurong. The loss of 90 jobs there could very well be the mere tip of the iceberg ("90 jobs lost here as Caterpillar shuts plant"; last Saturday).

Now, more than ever, Singapore must anchor itself with a strong manufacturing base that has the right stuff to succeed for decades to come.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'Urgent need to spur revival of manufacturing sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe